Art of Disappearing 5, May 2008

WORLD HAIKU REVIEW Volume 6 Issue 3 - May 2008




Haiku and invisibility … Since each pure haiku moment is a cleansing of the heart and mind - a diamond-point of concentrated illumination, a link-up with the unsullied - it can be said that the haikuist comes to be in perfect touch with her/ his own inherent invisibility and perfection. And this invisibility becomes more and more of a reality as haiku moments become richer, deeper and more refined.

St. Augustine of Hippo says: ‘Some men of great gifts, and very learned in the Holy Scriptures, who have, when an opportunity presented itself, done much by their writings to benefit the Church and promote the instruction of believers, have said that the invisible God is seen in an invisible manner, that is, by that nature which in us also is invisible, namely, a pure mind or heart.’


Becoming dew … Why suffer like the Prince of Denmark - ‘Oh that this too, too solid flesh would melt, thaw and resolve itself into a dew …’ It is purity of mind, purity of heart which allows us to recognise the dew and share in its nature:

dance, from one blade of grass

to another –

pearls of dew!


Shakespeare’s greatness as a tragedian rests largely on his supreme ability to depict the tragic consequences of the dualistic mind. Peace and lack of peace are constant themes:

Pour the sweet milk of concord into hell,

Uproar the universal peace, confound

All unity on earth


This contrasts with the opposite mood:

And this our life, exempt from public haunt,

Finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks,

Sermons in stones, and good in everything …

(As You Like It)

He is often concerned with the poisoned mind, the loss of wisdom – as when Othello moans, ‘Farewell the tranquil mind!’

The haiku path, on the other hand, is one of conflict resolution. How can Oneness be in conflict? The great master Dogen puts it like this: ‘When the opposites arise, the Buddha mind is lost.’

Shakespeare sees the problem clearly:

Sigh no more, ladies, sigh no more,

Men were deceivers ever;

One foot in sea, and one on shore,

To one thing constant never.

(Much Ado About Nothing)

Of course, if he only dwelt in the realm of duality, physicality and visibility, Shakespeare would not be the great playwright he is. No – the invisible world, the transcendental world – as must be – finds its place in his work, on Cleopatra’s lips, here arranged in 17 syllables:

Give me my robe

Put on my crown

I have immortal longings in me


Invisible heart of the world … Haiku reconnects us with the invisible, beating heart of the world. The Sami have a beautiful legend, as pure as the snow that surrounds them. The creator-god took the living, trembling heart out of a young reindeer and buried it deep in the centre of the earth. In times of tribulation, the Sami nomads have only to put an ear to the ground and listen and know that all will be well – the heart still beats.

Haiku is a way of listening just as much as seeing:

does the woodpecker

stop and listen, too?

evening temple drum


(Version: GR)

Once we are open, who knows what guides may appear:

the moon

has found it for me

a mountain path

Michael McClintock

without a voice

the heron would disappear –

morning snow


Chiyo became a nun in 1775. Why? To flow! To vanish, ‘to teach my heart to be like the clear water which flows night and day!’


Mahavir vanishes … One can take it that Aurelius was lavish without giving every blessed thing away. The great Indian saint, Mahavir, went one step further than our Roman friend. He gave all his princely wealth away in one grand gesture, leaving himself with nothing but the cloak on his back. In his haste to flee the world, a thorny bush snagged his cloak, tearing half of it away. Mahavir now had only half a cloak. Along comes a hobbling beggar. He had heard that Mahavir was giving away all his earthly goods. Had he missed the event? Was he too late? Mahavir gave the poor beggar all he possessed – the remaining half of his cloak - and vanished, naked, into the forest. Free at last!

In pure, selfless haiku moments, we become the vanishing Mahavir. There is nothing we can take with us on this journey of light.


Santōka, the beggar monk, was in his ramshackle abode when a dog appeared. It had a rice-biscuit in its mouth. Much appreciated as his begging bowl was rarely full. He split the biscuit with the dog! That wasn’t enough. A hungry cat appeared. He split it again:

Autumn night –

got it from the dog

gave it to the cat


A delicate concatenation … Many haiku double their effect by introducing subtle counter-images or companion-images and one never ceases to wonder, even after repeated readings, at all that’s going on, all that’s being suggested, within this little form:

the sea darkens

the voice of the duck

faintly white


the falling leaves

fall and pile up; the rain

beats on the rain


It is, of course, an event – one event – that is described in a haiku but in it we discover layers of experience, an accumulation of happenings, a delicate concatenation of related, universal, timeless events. Haiku moments are in the eternal now. Silesius, as we have said before, intuits this valuable insight:

Time is eternity, eternity is time,

If you wish, you can make them rhyme

(Version: GR)


Alertness in the One … Have you noticed how often rain has occurred in the sample haiku given so far? And will you notice the word ‘rain’ next time it occurs?

It’s going to occur again fairly soon. Stay alert! And even if it doesn’t occur again, stay alert anyway. (Or take another timely break NOW)

In the Gyôdai haiku (above) we have noticed leaves upon leaves and rain on rain. Are these separate entities or are they one? If they were separate entities it would be impossible to disappear into one element and not into the other. One disappears into the whole. One cannot disappear into a fraction, because fractions do not really exist. This is the important point we find in Shunryu Suzuki’s enlightened text, Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind (Weatherhill, 197O): ‘Each existence depends on something else. Strictly speaking, there are no separate individual existences. There are just many names for one existence.’


drawing the tree

it was

(The Tree it Was by Sandra Fuhringer, King’s Road Press, 2002)

Everything is everything else as is touchingly revealed in an anonymous poem collected in India in the 1st. century A.D. by King Hala:

Buck and Doe

There’s a clearing in the forest

where a lone buck stands

desire is filling the eyes of a doe

The hunter in the trees

it’s his own girl he sees

and drops the bow

(Version: GR)


Unexpected showers … Enjoy them! Rain, hail, sleet, or snow. The noise. The silence. Penetrating to the essence:


falling on snow –




Penetrating the void

winter wind

from where to where?

leafless trees


Meditate on This

The Saviour said, All nature, all formations,

all creatures exist in and with one another, and

they will be resolved again into their own roots.

The Gospel of Mary Magdalene


Sudden illumination …

flash of lightning!

legs of a spider

scurrying up a wall


That lightning flash was no mere natural phenomenon; it was Kichō’s sudden illumination. The spider’s legs, it has often been noticed, can be seen as a miniature pictogram of forked lightning scrawled on the sky. They are, in a way, the same. Inside is outside. Outside is inside. They are one. And Kichō, too, is at one with the one. Where else could he be? Outside? Inside? He is at one with the one – a feat impossible without disappearing in a flash.

In truth, every moment is vanishing, every sound is dying, and everything is being reborn. Catch these dying sounds while you can – disappear into them:

three times they call

and then … no more …

deer in rain


Vanishing, dying – yes; and yet there’s a palpable sense of eternity in Buson’s brief lines. The ever-curious mind may, in time, wonder what may have happened before, or after, but for one glorious, unrepeatable moment we hear a snatch of the unfinished symphony of life, its faint echo.


Cameron Burgess could well have been writing about haiku in the following: ‘In truth, there is no teaching, there is no ‘way’ to be or not to be, to do or not to do. In truth, there is only the ever-deepening knowing that it is not the seer, the seen or the seeing that matters, but the place in which all three rest, the awareness of all three. This is who you are …’ And this ‘ever-deepening knowing’ comes to all dedicated haikuists.

It can come in a flash as kensho, an opening, or as satori, enlightenment. These ‘openings’ are not deliberate, pre-meditated actions, such as uncorking a bottle of wine. They come to all who learn and perfect the art, they come as unexpected showers:

the skylark:

its voice alone fell

leaving nothing behind


(Trans. R H Blyth)


Everything is coming and going in this world of dew, including our own manifestations and disappearances. We can disappear at will when our vision penetrates and interpenetrates an event until all clutter dissolves. This from a book called Mit weinig woorden, (With a few words), published in Flanders in 1997:

the grey sea

darkens in the evening

the void grows

Ferre Denis

(Trans. Willy Cuvelier & Ferre Denis)

The haikuist knows how to slip into that void. He does it all the time. And the haikuist who doesn’t know how to slip into that void is simply practising the form and had better start again ab initio.

coming from fog

the bird flies through fog

fading into fog

Dimitar Stefanov

(Version: GR)


Revolutionary symphony …The veil of Maya, illusion, is as impenetrable in Bulgaria as it is in Flanders or as it is in the Himalayas but haiku consciousness rends that veil, momentarily. No rituals are needed. We need not sit impassively like ascetic yogis until, as Kabir says, our matted locks make us look like goats. Meditative readings of the Haiku Masters is an apprenticeship in itself and initiates responsive readers to recognise and experience haiku moments in their ordinary, everyday lives. The result will be the birth of a revolutionary symphony.


William Henry Channing could have been talking about the haiku path when he said:

‘To live content with small means; to seek elegance rather than luxury, and refinement rather than fashion; to be worthy, not respectable, and wealthy, not rich; to listen to stars and birds, babes and sages with open heart; to study hard; to think quietly, act frankly, talk gently, await occasions, hurry never, in a word, to let the spiritual, unbidden and unconscious grow up through the common – this is my symphony.’

It is much more than a symphony. It is a revolution! Engagement with haiku is a revolutionary act. And – so far - it’s legal! ‘Seeking elegance rather than luxury’ is a revolutionary statement in our grasping, selfish world; ‘to listen to stars and birds’ competes with the frivolity of mass media, the noisy might of corporate television and radio, the strident, gossipy entertainment industry; ‘to be content with small means’ flies in the face of rampant consumerism.

Haiku is a revolutionary symphony that can save the world from its own vapidity, selfishness, greed, cruelty … from all of its gross excesses. To disappear, in haiku, is the most revolutionary act of all! It is truly a mark of our daring, our freedom:

snow flurrying …

the deer look back, one by one

before they vanish

Tom Clausen

(Standing Here, self-published 1998)


Where have all the young men gone?

Marching together

On the ground

They will never step on again


(Trans. John Stevens)


Gently fading …

october dawn

a pheasant fades

into the cotton field

Darrel Byrd

(World Haiku Association web site)

cry of the hawk

long after

it has disappeared

Kat Avila



Apocalyptic vision … On receiving the Börne Prize, world-acclaimed literary critic and philosopher, George Steiner, reminded us that we are guests on this earth. We should behave courteously, graciously. His speech of thanks had an apocalyptic warning: ‘Tons of rubbish, of poisonous filth, lie on Mount Everest. Seas are dying. Innumerable plants and animal species are being destroyed …’ Steiner makes us ask ourselves, what kind of guests are we at all?

We should listen to that Psalm which, indeed, insists that we are no more than mere guests on this earth. The composer Schűtz put some very beautiful music to Luther’s translation of that Psalm: ‘Ich bin ein Gast auf Erden ...’

Back to Steiner now, his diagnosis, his prognosis: ‘The guest has become a technologically intoxicated, blind vandal. He systematically wrecks the hostelry which had welcomed him…’ Who could disagree? But, how is our planet going to recover? Steiner’s view is bleak: ‘The environment will only recover after the self-destruction of a humanity made crazy by money mania. Only if we vanish does our planet have a chance …’ (Quoted in Kulturchronik No. 2, 2003).


A peaceful vanishing … We concur with Steiner’s prognosis, in a way. After all, no less an authority on life forms on earth than Jacques Cousteau says the same thing, if we are not willing to turn away from greed ‘we will disappear from the face of the globe, to be replaced by the insect.’

But we see it differently from Steiner and Cousteau. Vanish, disappear, yes, but not in a suicidal holocaust, not in violence, not in fire and brimstone. We can all learn to disappear now, to walk lightly on this earth, to treasure the world and hold it in awe:

a pheasant’s tail

very gently brushes

the violets


(A Haiku Menagerie, Stephen Addiss with Fumiko & Akira Yamamoto (Weatherhill, 1992)

The haikuist’s disappearance allows him a companionableness with the rest of nature, an unthreatening, invisible, compassionate, healing presence:

morning chill

one mushroom

shelters another

Mark Brooks

And the return from these almost shamanistic voyages can also be described:

the geese fly off …

and now it comes to me

that I am still here

H.F. Noyes

(Parnassus Literary Journal, Fall 1988)


In the haiku moment interpenetration occurs with the visible and the invisible, the near and the far, the temporal and the eternal:

summer evening

light that touched the moon

touching me

Michael Ketchek

(Acorn, No. 4, 2000)


still measuring

the vast summer sky

Ty Hadman

(The Heron’s Nest, 2001)

By being invisible, we hear better:


the skins of wild damsons

darkening in the rain

Caroline Gourlay

(Reading All Night, Hub Haiku Series, 2000)


There it is again … The rain! We warned you it was coming. Remember? Were you alert to it? There might be another shower on the way, so watch out.

An other-world aura surrounds the above haiku. If fairies and other ethereal beings didn’t exist, we would have to invent them! It is our fairy-like ability to be invisible, to move as the wind shifteth, this is what allows us extraordinary moments of numinous presence and an awareness of the living presence of other things, animate and seemingly inanimate:

winter night.

the mannequin in the shop window

stares at my jumper

Nikola Madzhirov

(Ginyu, No. 20, 20/10/2003)

Our hearing improves dramatically with haiku!

deep in the shadows

of this forgotten temple

swallow chicks cry

Suezan Aikins

(Four Seasons)

Ich hőre sogar die Laute der Stille –


I can even hear

the sound of quietness –

Zen garden

Gabi Greve

(Simply Haiku, 2006)

East and West

When the ancient man composed a poem, he felt that spiritual Power spoke through him. In Greece the poet let the Muse speak through him to his fellowmen. This consciousness was a heritage of the ancient Orient. With the passage of the spiritual life toward the West, poetry became more and more the manifestation of man himself. In the ancient Orient, the spiritual Powers sang through man to men. The cosmic word resounded from the gods down to man. In the West, it has become the human word. It must find the way upward to the spiritual powers. Man must learn to create poetry in such a way that the Spirit may listen to him. The West must mould a language suited to the Spirit. Then the East will say: “The divine Word, which once streamed for us from heaven to earth, finds its way back from the hearts of men into the spiritual

world …”

Rudolf Steiner

(West-East Aphorisms)


Trust: the haiku way … By trusting in the haiku moment, you open yourself up to the possibility of radical renewal and you will see that by disappearing, you have not lost anything. You have gained. You have gained the most important thing there is in life:

Suddenly one day everything is empty like space

That has no inside or outside, no bottom or top,

And you are aware of one principle

Pervading all the ten thousand things.

You know then that your heart

Is so vast that it can never be measured.


Immeasurable heart … When the haikuist experiences dissolving in the haiku moment, he learns that his heart ‘is so vast that it can never be measured’. Then all things, near and far, fall into the compass of fearless compassion and wonder. It is not that his heart has expanded overnight, or in an instant. It is a dawning, an awareness of a hidden potential, which haiku awakens.

Haiku allows us to breathe, once freed of the fetters that cramp and limit our consciousness. Hitherto meaningless chores suddenly become rituals of surprise, beauty, awe and reverence. Every true haiku you read, every true haiku you write will sustain this insight and reflect it.


and then not sweeping

the fallen leaves


(A Haiku Garden, Addiss et al)


When Yeats said ‘I’m looking for the face I had before the world was made’ he was talking about that state of egolessness which we once all knew. Sogyal Rinpoche says: ‘It is important to remember always that the principle of egolessness does not mean that there was an ego in the first place – and the Buddhists did away with it! On the contrary, it means there was never any ego at all to begin with. To realize that is called ‘egolessness’.

It is this ‘egolessness’ which affords Taigi such pleasure in sweeping up the leaves and in not sweeping them, investing action and inaction with dignity and meaning beyond words.


Disappearance: will you recognise it? When you have genuine haiku moments, the evidence of your disappearance will appear in your haiku. Simple as that. Every haiku arising from a genuine haiku moment is not so much a learning as a de-learning, an unlearning, a return to the state described above by Sogyal Rinpoche.

young buck

about to mate

mountain rain


(Version: GR)

stiffening the mushroom

on the stump …

winter rain


(Trans. David D. Lanoe)

first winter rain –

the world drowns

in haiku


(Trans. David G. Lanoue)

Did the rain catch you out, or were you expecting it? We said it would rain again. It always does. Especially when we’re not expecting it. Things just slip up on us, appear and disappear:

summer rains –

secretly one evening

moon in the pines


(A Haiku Garden)

Only one who had entered the secret of secrets and disappeared could see such a thing. Ah, how he must have inspired and delighted his 3,000 haiku students!